The Takeaway

A short conversation with Cari Medd, principal of Poland Regional High School

Can you briefly describe Poland Regional High School’s journey?

We opened in 1999 as the first new high school in Maine in a long time. We were an island?a school union, a very disjointed type of district organization. We had our own school board. We had three towns of kids coming here, but the school was owned by one town. It took a long time for the three communities to be connected around the school. All three towns now see this as their high school, but that took a long time. It took longer than it needed to because of the political side of it. If there had been another way to do it, it certainly would have made a cohesive educational system quicker than what we have now.

While there are plenty of schools in Maine that would disagree, consolidation is the best thing that ever happened to this high school.

Are you glad you undertook the project of implementing a learner-centered education system?

On the whole, it makes you a better teacher in terms of being able to think carefully about what kids know and should be able to do and focus on specific content rather than specific point counting.

Given that it's too early for much data, what makes you think this system is having a positive impact?

The conversations between teachers and students are much more focused on the learning as opposed to a [grade point] average. The conversations around teaching and learning are much richer because of that. Whether or not the teaching and learning is actually better I don’t know, but the conversations are better.

What would you do differently?

It was very controversial when we first opened, and there was a lot of community concern. Given the time we have had to work it all out, we have increased collaboration among faculty. There are a lot of structures that have nothing to do with grades and standards, such as structures around teams and advisories that we implemented and stayed with, which are good for kids.

There is a great deal of collaboration. It helped us to build interventions for kids who are struggling and find out what kids need.

What are parents’ reactions?

Everything that we’re doing here is not a big mystery. I still hear comments about grades and the grading system. Grades K-8 have adopted a standards-based report card, so there’s more familiarity with it. We translate our standards-based system into language that describes the level of performance: competent, advanced and distinguished. Now I have parents of eighth graders arguing for a 4-3-2-1 system in the high school. It was so controversial for so long. It’s been a shift in thinking and what people are used to.

What differences do you see in students?

When I first started teaching in this district, I can remember kids desperately asking for a D. Just give me a D. Because we now set the bar at “competent,” that concept is foreign to them. They have to do the minimum that we require in this system.

What are the next steps for RSU 16?

Shifting to the Common Core and a full implementation of Response to Intervention.